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The Dukes of Hazzard Premiered 42 Years Ago Today

  • On January 26, 1979, The Dukes of Hazzard made their way the only way they know how, jumping their orange 1969 Dodge Charger over a crick and into the hearts and minds of audiences nationwide for the first time. Reworked from the 1975 movie Moonrunners and capitalizing on the popularity of Burt Reynolds outlaw race movies like Smokey and the Bandit, the adventures of the "two modern day Robin Hoods" of fictional Hazzard County in Georgia ran for seven seasons. By Season 3, it was the #2 show on the air.

    This clip above is Scene 1, Episode 1, Season 1 of the show, with narrator and theme song performer Waylon Jennings introducing us to Bo (John Schneider) and Luke Duke (Tom Wopat), cousins who used to run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse (Denver Pyle) until they got caught and put on probation, a fact that the nefarious county commissioner Boss Hogg (Sorrell Booke) and his bumbling Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (James Best) constantly try to exploit to put them back in jail so they will stop foiling his dirty schemes. The scenes of cars driving around dirt roads and getting in wrecks usually account for about 50% of every episode, and there are 147 of them.

    Then there was Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach), the gorgeous Duke cousin who was so pin-up popular that the style of cut-off jean shorts she often wore are still referred to by her name to this day. She was the apple of "dipstick" Deputy Enos Strate's (Sonny Troyer) eye, and she was not above using that to get her cousins out of trouble with the law, although later in the series, she returns his affection enough to almost marry him. Also, local mechanic Crazy Cooter Daveport was played by Ben Jones, who would later represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives for four years.

    During a contract dispute with Warner Bros., Schneider and Wopat walked off the show in protest, and were replaced by Coy (Byron Cherry) and Vance Duke (Christopher Mayer) for most of the show's fifth season. Coy and Vance were obviously just clones of Bo and Luke, and were deeply unpopular with fans, and thus the ratings tanked. Bo and Luke eventually returned, but the show never quite recovered, and was cancelled after Season 7, although it did manage a pair of TV-movies, with 1997's The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! and 2000's The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood. There was even a cartoon called The Dukes and Enos, an ill-fated spin-off series, that saw Enos Strate join the LAPD.

    The show was hugely popular with kids, with its cartoonish characters and car-jumping action, but these days it tends to generate controversy, since the name of that 1969 Dodge Charger is The General Lee, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and the Confederate "stars and bars" flag is emblazoned on its roof. While The Dukes of Hazzard was hardly full of complex thought and probably didn't intend those symbols to mean anything other than "these are things that southern people like," the recent and rightful wave of anti-racist sentiment that has led to the tearing down of Confederate monuments leads to questions about how to treat this old show, even if it was likely "never meanin' no harm."

    In 2005, there was a feature film adaptation starring Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville as Bo and Luke, Jessica Simpson as Daisy, Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse, and even Burt Reynolds himself as Boss Hogg. It attempted to deal with the Confederate flag controversy by blaming it all on Crazy Cooter (David Koechner), saying it was all his idea because he was a big Civil War buff and, well, crazy. The Duke boys gave him some side-eye about it, but that likely won't be enough if they ever try to revive The Dukes of Hazzard again.

    The Dukes of Hazzard ran from 1979 to 1985 on CBS.

    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: The Dukes of Hazzard, CBS, John Schneider, Tom Wopat